Wants to Protect Advances in Fishery Conservation and Management
Ellen K. Pikitch, Professor and Executive Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, was among a group of witnesses that provided testimony at The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Legislative Hearing in Washington, D.C., on February 4. Pikitch testified that amendments recently proposed by the Committee’s Chairman threaten many important provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing U.S. marine fisheries management.
The act, named after former Senators Warren Magnuson of Washington and Ted Stevens of Alaska, originated in 1976. It has been changed, or reauthorized, a few times since then, with the most recent major amendment in 2006 as a response to continued overfishing of major stocks. In 2006, Congress added requirements that fishery managers base annual catch limit decisions for fish populations on scientific advice and establish measures to prevent overfishing.
The House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, considers legislation about fisheries, wildlife and oceans. In December 2013, Chairman Hastings issued a draft proposal of amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that Pikitch and other scientists believe will reverse the improvements that have been made to our nation’s fisheries as a result of the act.
Throughout her career, Pikitch has been deeply involved in fishery conservation and fisheries management science. She supports the progression of fishery science and management from its current species-by-species approach to a more comprehensive and realistic one that involves an ecosystem-based methodology. Such an approach would account for the interactions among marine species, their habitat requirements and environment, and the people who depend upon them. Furthermore, there is a growing consensus among scientists that this approach to management is the necessary next step to ensure sustainable stewardship of our ocean resources.
“Due to the hard work of managers, fishermen, scientists, conservationists, and others, we are turning the corner in fishery management,” said Pikitch. “Although we certainly have more work to do, the state of our fisheries is improving – it is certainly stronger now than at any time during my professional career.”
Moreover, the improvements that have been made through the act are not only benefitting fish populations and ocean ecosystems, but are making important economic contributions through jobs and more profitable fisheries. “The U.S. has one of the best management systems in the world thanks to our commitment to follow scientific recommendations, prevent overfishing and rebuild fish populations,” she continued. “As we consider modifications to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, it is imperative that we maintain and build upon this recent progress.”
Pikitch argued that the proposed amendments to the act will allow overfishing to continue by delaying rebuilding measures, and thereby jeopardizing fish populations and the economic viability of businesses and communities that rely on them. The proposal will also reverse gains made in better incorporating science in our fishery management system, make basic fishery data off limits to the general public, and weaken core environmental laws as they apply to fishery management decisions.
“We must shift our focus from managing fish as separate, individual species with a primary goal of maintaining populations of key target species, and move toward recognizing they are part of an interacting web of marine life, an ecosystem,” Pikitch emphasized.
Her recommendations to the committee included key components of ecosystem-based fishery management, and many peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published that support this growing consensus. Pikitch said that during this upcoming reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Congress should firmly establish ecosystem-based fishery management approaches in the law.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is expected to have a second hearing on the proposal in upcoming weeks. During the February 4 hearing, Chairman Hastings stated that his goal is to complete reauthorization of the act by the end of the year.
The U.S. Senate has held three oversight hearings on implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act since July 2013, but no Senator has yet released a bill to reauthorize the act.
Click here to watch a webcast of the hearing or to read Ellen Pikitch’s testimony.